It’s been a long time since I reviewed a restaurant on this blog. That’s partly because most of the restaurants I’ve eaten at in the past few months have either been places I’ve reviewed before, or places that just didn’t merit a review—good or bad.
But have you ever had that experience when you go to a restaurant that you’ve heard high praise for, and wonder if it’s going to match up to your expectations? And find that yes, it does. It does. That a teaspoonful of a very rummy chocolate mousse can literally make you go weak at the knees, and that you wish, even as you’re making your way through a delicate antipasti, that it would never finish?
Artusi was like that. I’ve been hearing about this Italian restaurant ever since it opened a couple of years back: lots of people said it was probably the best standalone Italian restaurant in Delhi. My husband and I finally got around to visiting Artusi for lunch this last Saturday, and, by the time we emerged after a memorable three-course meal, we were trying to figure out when we could return again, and what we’d try the next time around.
You enter Artusi—which is a few steps up from the road outside—into the bar area, which has a lovely old-fashioned 60s’ feel to it.
The bar has its requisite whiskies and whatnots, but there’s also a very definite presence of the Italian spirit world: Campari, Cinzano, Lambrusco, and more. An ice bucket full of long-stemmed red roses sits on the bar counter, and on the wall next to it is a row of lovely framed black-and-white photographs of classic Italian film stars: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, and Gina Lollobrigida among them.
Beyond this row of photographs, off to the right, is the dining area, which is a not-very-large space. A rectangular hall with wood-panelled walls, one side is mirrored and the other has more photos of film stars (including, above our table, James Dean). Just beside the door is a delightful black-and-white photo of a huge group of waiters, all in long white aprons, clustered around windows, looking out.
On to the menu. This is substantial enough, offering a variety of antipasti, soups, salads, main courses (vegetarian, fish, meats, chicken), pasta, risotto, cheeses, and desserts. Both my husband and I decided to skip anything to drink—hard or soft—and focused on the food. A shared antipasti (paté di fegatini, chicken liver paté); and a mains each (tortellini al ragú for my husband, cappellaccio carbonara for me). Having placed our order, we sat back and helped ourselves to the bread basket. Besides the (very good) extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to go with the focaccia, hard roll, and slices of Italian bread, there was also a small bowl of a very good tapenade-like spread, slightly tomato-ey, predominantly olives, but not overpowered by either.
The antipasti arrived soon after. A square plate with four compartments, each bearing one little heap of a goodie. The chicken liver paté in one, topped by a curl of chilled butter; more curls of butter in another; juliennes of pickled carrots in the third, and caramelized onions in the fourth. On an accompanying plate were four thin slices of toasted Italian bread drizzled lightly with olive oil.
This was fabulous. I have a weakness for chicken liver paté, so if I see it on a menu anywhere, I’m pretty much certain to order it—which is why I’ve eaten a lot of it. I can safely say that, in Delhi, I’ve eaten this good chicken liver paté at only one other restaurant (Basil and Thyme). And the accompaniments here put Basil and Thyme’s version to shame. The carrots were a beautifully sweet-sour, crisp relish, and the caramelized onions, fragrant with dark balsamic vinegar, were a delight. Lovely.
Next up, the mains. My husband’s tortellini al ragú was tortellini stuffed with a mixture of cured meats and spices, served in a ragú sauce. I’m not a fan of tomato-based sauces, but this impressed me: it was very flavourful, and perfectly balanced. Not too sour, not too salty, not too tomatoey, not too meaty. The pasta, both of us felt, could’ve been thinner—it was a little too dense—but that was a minor quibble.
With my cappellaccio carbonara, even that quibble wasn’t there. This was divine. Perfect pasta, a satiny egg yolk-and-cheese sauce, lots and lots of bacon, and a good dash of cracked black pepper. My husband, who exchanged plates with me halfway through, liked this so much that he threw table manners to the wind and used some bread (our bread basket had been replenished in the meantime) to mop up every last bit of the carbonara sauce.
And, of course, desserts were in order. Artusi has a decent selection of them, all the way from pears poached in red wine, to cheese platters. I settled for a panna cotta ai fichi e le mandorle; my husband, a mousse di cioccolato nero con amarene. With, of course, the understanding that we’d share both.
My panna cotta looked really pretty: a lovely wobble to it, the plate pretty with a zigzag of caramel and a very generous sprinkling of toasted flaked almonds. The panna cotta itself was excellent both in terms of texture and taste, and the tablespoonful of pureed figs on the side were a very appropriate side to it.
That knee-weakening, “I am in heaven” moment came when I took the large glass teacup full of chocolate mousse from my husband and had my first spoonful. I’ve had lots of chocolate mousse. Dark, milk, rich, with all sorts of added flavours, from chilli to raspberry to gorgonzola—and this, with Amarene cherries and rum—was a mouthful of paradise. I have no other words to describe it.
Our bill came to a total of Rs 5,344. Not a small amount by any means, but well worth it. I’d happily save up for another meal like this.
(And, yes: before I sign off, one more thing that I’d like to put on record. The portion sizes at Artusi are just right. They allow you space for two courses or more, and they take into account the richness of dishes that will fill you up).
M-24, M-Block Market
Greater Kailash Part – II
New Delhi – 110048
Tel: 011-4906 6666